June 20, 2024
ESA orbiter discovers huge ice water deposits at Mars’ equator

A European probe has found massive ice deposits beneath the equator of Mars, a finding that could alter our fundamental understanding of the red planet’s climatic history. 

The discovery was made by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter. This veteran spacecraft has circled the red planet for 20 years, revealing several secrets about its past and present climate.

While it’s not the first time the probe has found ice deposits, this is by far the largest amount of water ice ever detected at the equator of Mars. It’s estimated that the deposits are around 3.7km thick, which means that they would cover the entirety of Mars in a shallow ocean about two metres deep if melted.  

The area where the ice lies is known as the Medusae Fossae Formation (MFF). Scientists first discovered signs of possible ice deposits in this region back in 2007, but have not confirmed its presence until now. 

“We’ve explored the MFF again using newer data from Mars Express’s MARSIS radar, and found the deposits to be even thicker than we thought,” said Thomas Watters, lead author of both the new research and the initial 2007 study. “Excitingly, the radar signals match what we’d expect to see from layered ice, and are similar to the signals we see from Mars’s polar caps, which we know to be very ice-rich.”